Luke 19:1-10New International Version (NIV)
Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Recently, Mark Wahlberg, the famous actor, has asked for a pardon for a hate crime he committed years ago as a kid. I enjoy a lot of Wahlberg’s movies, and unlike many who really dislike his action, I’m not about to boycott all his movies, but his case does bring up some interesting ethical problem.
Reaction comes from the extreme of either saying that Walberg doesn’t deserve any pardon or he deserves a second chance. Then, there’re the reactions in between. According to Wahlberg in this article, he said that he has paid back society by doing good deeds like charities. Mary Belmonte, the white teacher who brought the students to the neighborhood beach that day, sees things differently. “I believe in forgiveness,” she said. “He was just a young kid — a punk — in the mean streets of Boston. He didn’t do it specifically because he was a bad kid. He was just a follower doing what the other kids were doing.” Yet, one of his victims called for no pardon. Walberg used to chase her and her friends, pelted them with rocks and called them racist names. Some might question her for drudging up the past. Why not let bygone be bygone?
The answer is very simple. Good works do not always bring reconciliation. With every sin or crime against real victims, unless the perpetrator reaches out and makes reparation to victims, good works can’t hide past sin and they certainly do not redeem the sinner. Wahlberg and his supporters do not understand this simple truth.
According to the Asian American man who lost his eye in the racist attack, he has pardoned Walberg and he is to be commended for his generosity, but he also states that Wahlberg has never reached out to him. People like Belmonte, a WHITE teacher, do not help by saying that Wahlberg deserves forgiveness. Says who? Belmonte is WHITE; she’s never experienced a racist crime from another white man like Wahlberg. To be honest, with people like Belmonte who just don’t get it, they’re allowing Wahlberg to dance around the issue. They’ve never earned the right to forgive because they’ve never been a victim of Wahlberg. If Wahlberg wants good will, perhaps taking financial steps to make reparation to his victims is the best way to earn some good will. Start with, “I’m sorry for your eye. Here’s a few million dollars from my stash of several other millions.”
Christians who behaved badly in their formerly lives also often hide behind their conversion, as if God’s grace is somehow a justification for their past wrong. I’ve seen this with some HK officials whose questionable ethics only match their zeal for “evangelism”, supposed after being reformed and of course not making any reparation towards their own mess. Some 70% of present and past HK high officials claim to be Christians according to one article. Some of them even organize prayer events on the Day of Global Prayer with a heavily pro-government coloring. One particular gentleman has been known to use questionable tactics to carry out more questionable government policies while always kissing up to China’s oppressive government. The same gentleman who has studied for his diploma at Oxford while “seeking God’s will” and who was a huge advocate for the oppressive government is now an “evangelist” who will spend his time “praying” for the government. I would laugh if I thought he was telling a joke, but he wasn’t. Perhaps he needs to pray over his own sins first and then make reparation by advocating for greater justice and less oppression. Some abstract pie-in-the-sky prayer is not what we need because we’re living in the real world with real victims. If a Christian is truly justified, s/he then ought to understand that justification is based on a sense of justice. The justified should value justice more, not less. Free grace is not cheap grace. A changed life doesn’t equal to reparation. Neither does it necessarily bring real reconciliation.
So, pardon (excuse the pun) my cynicism (aka realism) on cheap grace and dirty pardons. My haters will call me a Pelagian or a heretic who doesn’t believe in the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith. Someone ought to take a page out of Zacchaeus’ playbook in trying to define salvation based on that the way Jesus did. Reparation is necessary to demonstrate a changed life. Talk is cheap. Pretentious good works to ease the uneasy conscience is cheaper.